In 1993, shortly after Bill Clinton took office, a raging debate emerged concerning whether to repeal the prohibitions against homosexual practice and those who engaged in it that are contained in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the set of regulations governing the conduct of all U.S. military personnel. Originating from what were essentially peripheral comments about lifting the restrictions that then-Gov. Clinton made during the 1992 presidential campaign, the issue quickly took on a life of its own and dominated the early weeks of the Clinton presidency.
President Clinton was personally in favor of the measure, but knew the issue did not enjoy widespread support among the American people and thus never intended for it to be part of his early agenda. The military for its part was quite clearly opposed to any change in the regulations and Clinton, never popular with the military due to his actions during the Vietnam War and his publicly expressed sentiment of “loathing” for the profession of arms, did not want to further antagonize that relationship by giving the issue any kind of priority. Gay rights groups and far left members of Congress had other ideas.
The measure soon found itself bottled up in the Senate Armed Services Committee due to the opposition of its chairman, Democrat Sam Nunn of Georgia. After much hand wringing and consternation, a Nunn-sponsored compromise emerged which eventually evolved into what has become commonly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This compromise never really satisfied anyone, especially those who wanted the restriction eliminated. In the end the measure was quickly signed off on by the Clinton administration and a Democrat-controlled Congress eager to get past it and start work on healthcare reform, the centerpiece of the Clinton agenda.
Now what’s the point of this little history lesson?, you ask. Recently we’ve seen a rash of college-borne protests of military recruitment on college campuses in opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. While granting why someone in the GLBT community would oppose such a measure I must point out that the military doesn’t make policy; it implements and fulfills policy directives, even those it doesn’t particularly favor. Hence, if the restrictions on gays openly serving in the military had been rescinded, the military would have ultimately conformed to such a standard, the personal feelings of its officers and non-commissioned officers notwithstanding.
Protesting military recruiters because you don’t like the military policy set by our civilian political leaders is like protesting the UNICCO workers because you don’t agree with how much UNICCO pays them. The main difference of course is that the UNICCO workers have recourse to address this that the military would not if it opposed the current regulation.
But never fear, I’m here to help. If you really want to protest the entities most directly responsible for the enactment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it’s not the Pentagon you should be picketing-it’s the Democratic National Committee and former President Bill Clinton.
Scott Wacholtz is a graduate student in the history department. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.